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'Mummy mummy I'm scared!' - is he just bluffing? and what do i do??

(23 Posts)
wadadlis Mon 22-Aug-11 13:34:34

My 3 year old son refuses to go to sleep on his own. He tell us that he's scared and we have to stay with him until he is asleep or he gets hysterical.

We remove all items from his room which he states are scarey e.g. pirate ship toy, parrot hanging from ceiling, even an armchair one night hmm... And now he can't tell us what he's scared of but insists he's still scared. I have tried using one of his toys to 'scare away' the scary things but that hasn't worked.

On the occasions that I have tried controlled crying/gradual withdrawal he has screamed until he is sick - nice - ending up in complete pj and sheet change. (He has reflux so I think he find this easy!)

Any suggestions please?!

PS how do you spell scarey/scary anyway?!

SenoritaViva Mon 22-Aug-11 17:48:24

To start at the end, you spell scary like that!

That sounds really tough. I don't have experience but did have a friend who had a special spray that she sprayed around her child's bed to protect them from anything scary. It was of course just water and lavender (which helps aid sleep) but it was just kept for that. They had a whole thing in the evening as part of the bedtime routine. Worth a try? The nice thing about it is you can take it away with you if you're not at home...

mckenzie Mon 22-Aug-11 17:52:35

can he choose something, other than you, that will stop him being scared? Perhaps you can invent an excuse now why on wednesday for example, you wont be able to stay with him so can he think of something else that will work just as well? A photo of you? A torch? A small light?

wadadlis Mon 22-Aug-11 18:41:36

Right, those are good ideas, thankyou.

Anybody else?!

BertieBotts Mon 22-Aug-11 19:01:25

Is it a problem to just stay with him while he falls asleep? I'm sure he will grow out of it. You could also do something like this (in the example the child likes/needs to have their back rubbed until they are asleep - adapt from whatever your son is asking at the moment)

Week 1 - Sit with him and rub his back until he is asleep
Week 2 - Rub his back, but when he's nearly asleep, move to having just your hand resting on his back, until he is asleep
Week 3 - Rest hand on back until asleep
Week 4 - Rest hand on back, when nearly asleep, move your hand to his arm/hand, until he is asleep
Week 5 - Touch his arm or hand until he is asleep
Week 6 - Touch his arm or hand, when nearly asleep, move your hand so it is next to him on the bed
Week 7 - Keep hand next to him on bed
Week 8 - Just sit on the bed (or next to if you have been next to so far)
Week 9 - Sit next to the bed, close enough to touch
Week 10 - Sit near the bed, only close enough to touch if he also puts his arm out
Week 11 - Sit in the room but too far to touch
Week 12 - Sit in the room, near the door
Week 13 - Stand just outside the door but keep popping your head around to check/show you are still there
Week 14 - Slowly increase intervals of checking, until he's consistently asleep by the first check time.

At any of these stages, if he stirs in an upset sort of way, offer reassurance verbally, and at weeks 2-10, by going back one step in terms of touch. Don't move on a stage until he's totally calm settling in the stage that you are at (some of the stages, particularly the later ones, may take more than a week). Obviously it's not a quick fix! But it is a gentle one, and IMO it's more likely to stick, because you're not pushing him to do anything quicker than he is ready.

Good luck smile

wadadlis Mon 22-Aug-11 19:14:05

Wow, that's really comprehensive, thank you so much.

The problem with staying with him until he falls asleep is that it can take AGES and in the meantime I need/want to be fixing supper for me and husband, tidying up, folding laundry, drinking wine, getting my life back.

Admittedly it doesn't always take ages but it can be 8.30pm by the time he goes to sleep [he goes to bed at 7pm (DH doing bedtime tonight, hence I can MN)] and then we end up without any sort of evening to speak off which drives us kinda nuts.

He should be exhausted by the end of each day, I've been making a concerted effort recently to walk him for 3 hours or so in the park (we have a dog which helps!) and he has no daytime naps (oh, those were the days smile), the theory being that if he is tired enough he will just pass out.

Oh yes, and I should add that he wakes at 3am most nights and won't settle back to sleep alone so usually ends up in our bed...sad Fear we are making a rod for our own backs...

camdancer Mon 22-Aug-11 19:19:51

I have monster spray (lavendar air freshner) that we use sometimes. DS tells me where it needs to be sprayed and it seems to calm him. Of course it doesn't scare away the good monsters only the baddies. They don't like the smell apparently. If you do the monster spray, you need to let your DS lead you a bit. DS had lots of "whys" and "hows" that we had to go through but it did work.

As someone who spent a lot of nights as a child being scared stiff in bed after being told not to be so silly and to just grow up, I never want to let that happen to my children. If they are scared I will be there for them. I'm even happy to let them try it on sometimes because even if they are crying wolf they are still learning that I'll be there for them. <gets off soapbox>

wadadlis Mon 22-Aug-11 19:25:35

Yeah, I know what you mean, I also hate the idea of him being genuinely scared. That's your job as a mother, to protect them, right? I can also remember being scared at night when I was a kid, come to think of it...but think i was probably quite a bit older.

Need to start being a bit nicer I think!!

Maybe we can go to a shop together and buy some monster spray tomorrow and see if it works...otherwise will definitely go back to basics and try Bertie's programme.

Thanks everyone!

Happygomummy Mon 22-Aug-11 19:33:02

we went through a thing like this when ds1 was 2.5

the "scared" thing is apparently just something they use to get more time.

controlled crying is what helped with us (note that i didn't do CC when he was younger)

we put him into bed. said it was bedtime and he had to go to sleep then left the room and set a timer for 3 minutes.

he went nuts. straight out of bed, banging the door etc etc.

we waited the 3 mins, then went back in and firmly, but kindly, said "no, Freddie, it's time to go to bed" and placed him back again. left the room and set stopwatch.

same reaction - screaming, banging etc

after the 4th time, he screamed and banged a bit then it stopped. and he got back into bed and slept through

it's worth giving a go

(note that for DS2 however he was highly resistant so we compromised and i would iin the doorway facing away from him ie you have to adjust for each child)

good luck

wadadlis Mon 22-Aug-11 19:37:58

yes, i think that controlled crying/gradual withdrawal thing is what i would normally try but he is so good at throwing up (literally i'll scream and scream until i'm sick) that it's a no go area for us.

also, i should add that he has lots of medical issues which mean that he is tiny and weighs next to nothing. as a consequence our priority is to get as many calories in him as possible during the day, so when he throws up his supper plus his night time milk it has consequences for more than just my washing machine!

Happygomummy Mon 22-Aug-11 19:42:14

ooh the throwing up thing is what our DS2 did so that is why we compromised by sitting in doorway.

he started to complain that i wasn't lying next to him however when i threatened (and did) leave the room if he didn't get back into bed, he eventually settled for me sitting in the doorway.

i even have to do it the odd time now (like last night)

one day we will all get a restful nights sleep....!

Cathpot Mon 22-Aug-11 19:50:16

I used a gradual retreat like Bertiebotts suggest with DD2 and it did work really well, and I felt like I was making progress and we were getting somewhere. I also got a head torch and a book so I didnt feel I was wasting my time completely. An ipad would have been perfect!

Also- and I'm not sure this is any use as my DD1 is nearly 7 and this might not be suitable for a younger child but for what its worth- she goes through phases of having bad nightmares. We talked about how to deal with it and I told her what I do when I get anxious at night, is to 'go to' a really lovely safe place in my imagination. I told her what my safe place was like and she decided she would design a tree house to be a safe place. She has drawn it and it will go up next to her bed to remind her what to do when she wakes up upset and is scared to go back to sleep. Could you have some sort of calming story which you tell him in the dark, about him being in a lovely safe place of his own choosing? Can he articulate what he is scared of? I also like the monster spray idea very much, I can see that working. I think acknowledging that they ARE scared however irrational they are being is all good. Dont beat yourself up about him ending up in your bed either- it is a phase, he wont be there forever and as long as everyone can still sleep ok, I would go with it.

Hope something works for you. Its 2 years now since I have had to do any patting or shushing to sleep and it is amazing how quickly you forget! It does get better.

Tigresswoods Mon 22-Aug-11 19:53:08

Bertiebotts - seriously? hmm

Lady1nTheRadiator Mon 22-Aug-11 19:56:34

I have this with my DS who is 3.10. Tbh I do tend to sit with him and I don't mind most of the time (I have a Kindle or read MN on my phone). Now and then I will offer a story CD if I have something I need to do and sometimes he's happy with this, if that might be an idea for you?

Lady1nTheRadiator Mon 22-Aug-11 19:57:09

Tigress did you think Bertie was joking then? What's the hmm for?

Cheria Mon 22-Aug-11 19:57:23

I love the idea of monster spray. Going to try and remember that for when I get to the scared at night phase. Or, DD does.

wadadlis Mon 22-Aug-11 20:24:10

CD might work, that's a good idea. He liked Paddington in the car when were in Spanish hire car!

DH just sat with him and it's taken 1hr 20mins to get him to sleep...we've eaten supper separately as I was starving...not great for marital bliss!

BertieBotts Mon 22-Aug-11 20:29:20

Yes, seriously. It's just what I'd do. I didn't say it was the only way.

Taking an hour and a half to fall asleep does sound like a long time. Is he actually lying quietly for all this time or is he trying to get up, messing around etc? DS used to do this and after a while I could tell the difference between his actual lying still relaxing ready for sleep and his IamverywiredIamgoingtojigglemyfeetandtapmyhandsandgiggleattheslightestprovocation kind of lying still, and now I tell him he has to lie down properly or I will go downstairs. Then I usually leave him for a few minutes (usually crying at the stairgate) and try again. He only gets stories the first time though. I usually ask him if he's ready to lie down properly before I will come back in. I'm happy to sit with him as long as he needs, but as long as he's not messing around. He's perfectly capable of doing it at will as I discovered after following through a couple of times!

wadadlis Mon 22-Aug-11 20:34:58

Can't imagine why he wasn't completely exhausted but yes, you are right, he didn't seem that tired tonight.

Perhaps we can afford to be tough on the 'lie down quietly' thing and tell him if he wants to read books/play with toys (in bed, alone) he can, but not with us with him. In the past he has drifted off happily doing this so I know he can do it.

But what, as my DH says, if he then goes back to saying 'but i'm scared!'?? Grrr

wadadlis Mon 22-Aug-11 20:36:40

Should have said, yes he is quietish, though does try to engage with us if we are nearby e.g. on the landing/in the bathroom. But he is certainly a wriggle-bum and gets up every now and then to get another book or toy. We have a small light on so that he doesn't get scared - but obviously this means that he can play/read more easily

BertieBotts Mon 22-Aug-11 20:40:13

Then in that situation I'd tell him he needs to lie down quietly if he wants you there. If he isn't tired yet and wants to play with his toys/books quietly then he can do that, but you're going downstairs. If he wants you to stay he has to lie down quietly and not get up.

BertieBotts Mon 22-Aug-11 20:41:03

So if he's scared, that's fine, but he has to choose - reassurance of Mummy or distraction via toys.

Babieseverywhere Mon 22-Aug-11 21:14:00

When my DS went though a very similar phrase. I took his words at face value. If he is scared, he is scared and I didn't want him to feel like that.

We would try to settle him upstairs, if he didn't settle we just took him downstairs and put him on the sofa with a blanket. No toys, tv or any other positive attention. Quick hug and then we ignored him encouraged him to sleep. He would fall asleep within 15 minutes and we carried him back to bed when we went to bed. He grew out of this phrase and now sleeps well in his own bed.

If you do try this, make it clear that going downstairs does not mean tv, toys or moving off the sofa just having parents company whilst he sleeps downstairs.

Hope things change for the better very soon.

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